Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hank Hanegraaff - Jumped the Shark?

In my previous article on my own spiritual history, I mentioned some of the people who have been an influence on me. One person I forgot to mention was Hank Hanagraaff, especially through his "Bible Answer Man" radio show. He has had a huge influence on me, entirely for the better. In the early days of my Christianity, I had to drive about an hour to and from work. I found myself being drawn to Christian radio, at first to come up with reasons to oppose what they were saying (such is what our fallen will gets us!), but before long to learn from it. It is because of this time period of my life that I retain such a positive attitude about Christian radio. Christian television is, sadly, almost a wasteland with people like Fred Price, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Schuller, and T. D. Jakes filling the airwaves. Note that I say "almost": there are still good teachers and preachers on TV - people like Greg Laurie, John MacArthur, D. James Kennedy (RIP). In particular, I have recently discovered the "NRB" network (channel 378 on DirecTV) that seems to consist of almost completely solid preaching. Perhaps there is hope for Christian TV after all. Thankfully, Christian radio does not seem to have suffered quite as much from TV's downhill slide, perhaps because there is not as much money in it.

Anyway, because of my long commute, in those pre-MP3 days of the mid-90s I listened to a lot of Christian radio. I used to listen to so many programs - Hank's, John MacArthur, Dennis Rainey's Family Life Today, Tony Evans, even the corny radio drama "Unshackled." Though I don't have a commute anymore and so I don't listen to radio much, I am still very positive on Christian radio; I very seldom listen to any other radio stations - except, of course, when the Redskins are playing. It happened that Hank was on the radio exactly during my afternoon drive time. At first, I resisted what he had to say, but before long, after God changed my heart, I soaked it up. He spoke a lot of sense; he was obviously incredibly knowledgeable about the Bible; he had that quality of "holiness" about him.

Perhaps best of all, he supported the "mere Christian" idea I was learning to love from C. S. Lewis. That is, that we should not divide ourselves from other Christians, that we should (to use Hank's phrase), "debate vigorously but not divide." It is, I hope, with this spirit of "mere Christianity", that I write these blog postings. I heard him do this repeatedly even with positions that he disagreed with, and I respected him for it. For example, he wrote an article called "Safe and Sound" where he laid out his belief in the eternal security of the believer; and he was clear that he thought that the most Biblical position on the subject. However, he was always careful to emphasize that those who did not believe in eternal security were definitely within the "pale of orthodoxy," and never implied that such people had a faulty hermeneutic or a severe lack of understanding of the Bible. I learned to expect and respect and appreciate this kind of view of other Christians.

Then, a few years back, the "Left Behind" series started getting popular. There are many reasons not to like this series: two are that it is not well-written, and that it takes an extreme view of end times events that the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians throughout history have not believed and elevates it to dogma. (That it makes scads of money for its authors is neither here nor there.) So, Hank underwent his own quest to come to a conclusion on the end times; I recall that part of it included memorizing the entire book of Revelation.

He finally came to a conclusion, which is the orthodox partial preterist (amillenial) position. Now, I don't feel strongly about either the pre-tribulational or amillenial position; in fact it seems to me the most natural understanding of the Bible as a whole would lead one to a pre-millenial but post-tribulational view. But I naturally assumed that, in taking a view, he would treat other views the way he treated other doctrines he disagreed with.

So imagine my surprise to hear him using language against pre-tribulationists that I never heard him use with other views he disagreed with. He repeatedly said - and continues to say - they didn't know how to "read the Bible for all it's worth." I heard him very nearly equate John Nelson Darby's epiphany about dispensationalism to Joseph Smith's reception of the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni. Then, I recently heard him blame the dispensationalist point of view for the sufferings of the Palestinian people; his idea seemed to be that the Palestinians suffer because America supports Israel, and the primary reason America supports Israel is because of dispensationalist preachers.

Now, I am no dogmatic dispensationalist (the doctrine seems to me plausible but not well-supported by Scripture) but this seems quite a bit excessive. I could imagine few things less like the "mere Christian" Hank that I had grown to know, respect, and love.

This was followed closely by another area of non-"mere Christian" response; and this second area is one that is far more important than eschatology. I am speaking, of course, of soteriology. He seems to be one of that popular but ill-defined breed, the "Calminian." He takes some views that seem more or less Calvinist (Total Depravity, Eternal Security), but rejects the tough Calvinist points (Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace); sort of a "Calvinist Lite."

However, as with his eschatology, I am not so much disappointed with the position he takes as with the fact that his position is so harshly and vehemently anti-Calvinist. This, too, seems to me a relatively recent innovation in his thinking. Initially, when I was trying to sort out the questions of monergism vs. synergism, I heard Hank talk on several occasions about "libertarian" and "compatibilist" free will. This seemed to me very abstruse terminology, but something I wanted to understand. I recall hearing James White on his program - in fact, Hank's program is where I first heard Dr. White. He once held a live debate between two radically opposing viewpoints on soteriology: James White taking up the Calvinist position and Calvary Chapel's own George Bryson taking up what can only be called the anti-Calvinist position.

Over time he became more and more against the Calvinist position himself, similarly (it seems to me) as his transformation in the area of eschatology. Recently, he has gone completely off the deep end, equating the God of Calvinism with a "cosmic rapist" and saying that the Calvinist's God would be personally responsible for sin in the universe. (Why the Arminian's God, who apparently knew evil was going to happen but decided not to do anything about it, escapes the same criticism I'm not sure.)

With this, my disappointment in Hank was complete. He took simplistic, poorly-thought out criticisms of Calvinism and spread them far and wide. I now rarely listen to him. It is a real shame that the champion of "mere Christianity" would use such strong language against positions which I think he would admit are within the "pale of orthodoxy" (though, strangely, I have never heard him say on the radio).

Should we have strong opinions, and "discuss [them] vigorous without dividing?" Yes, about important topics. But to call names? That seems to me to be about as un-"mere Christian" and (more importantly) unloving and un-unified as you can get. Hank, whither hast thou gone?


Ken said...

I, too, gained a lot from HH, the BAM program, and CRI over the years. But in recent years, I have stopped sending them money and I rarely catch the BAM program. I explained my reasons here:

Since I have gotten out of the habit of reading their monthly fundraising letters and listening to the program, I can't comment much on your latest observations.

From what I have caught lately, it seems Hank could...could...I haven't listened enough to say for going to an unnecessary extreme when it comes to foreign policy and Isreal. I get that he rejects the Isreal of today having a connection to Biblical Israel, and that he thinks we ought not base foreign policy on the concept that there IS a connection. But I don't think concluding that "the chuch is Israel today" necessistates a foreign policy hostile to modern-day political Israel.

Ken said...

Oh... and one more thing. Since it does appear that CRI has become mostly a clearinghouse instead of having top-notch primary researchers, authors, and apologsits on staff, it will become less and less "equipped" to deal with new religious movements and changes in established cults. It will have to rely on other people outside of CRI to do that work, and then Hank can present it on air and urge us to buy the book.

kelvington said...

Hello...thanks for your's funny, but I felt like I was reading my own Christian journey! ;-)...I too started out as a believer listening to HH but got turned off after a few years and just recently have come across James White. I was surprised to hear HH was speaking so badly about Calvinism....I listened to a sermon by my spiritual "human" hero, Charles Spurgeon, and he said, "Calvinism is the Gospel." sorry HH, but I'll take Spurgoen over you anyday.

Thanks for the post!

Matt said...

You show grace to those whose theology doesn't line up exactly with you. That's refreshing. Check out Dave Hunt on youtube or his book What Love is This? We do have some great Christian brothers who are Calvinists, but there are some inherent dangers. As an ex-Catholic, I find infant baptism in Lutheran and Presbtyerian churches to be very odd. Even the term "reformed theology" is odd because no one is looking to reform Roman Catholicism, but to torch it (as it should). Simply put, they didn't reform much from Augustine and that is sad.

Rick said...

Calvinists are always pointing fingers saying that people who don't hold their view are "ignoring large chunks of scripture".

How do you see to type out your rants with such a large plank of wood in your own eye :-)

Think through what you think!

God wants us to choose life, Not Willing That Any Should Perish...if I be lifted up I will draw all men...
etc, etc, etc.

Now, men the likes of Piper and Sproul have made an art out of dismissing the passages.

Piper's "two wills of God" theory is as close to divine
schizophrenia as you can be.

God wants people to burn in hell?
God wants little girls to be raped?

Come out from your bubble and gaze upon the real world.

Good day

Anonymous said...

I listen to Hank Hanegraaff and I have and continue to gain wisdom and knowledge from his program. It seems that alot of people who disagree w/ him disagree based on their own jugemental thinking. test everything your hear, that is what Hank says and I do. I will pray and seek Godly wisdom and discernment before I pass judgement. The Holy Spirit lives in us, to guide and direct, to teach and correct, so surrender to Him and allow Him to give us the final answer. I support Hank and the Bible Answer Man program as well as CRI prayerfully and finacially, and unless Almighty GOD speaks to my heart and tells me not to, then I will stop.


Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Rick - Your "real world" is a sad litany of the common anti-Calvinist rants you hear all over. Perhaps if you paid more attention to the Biblical world than your "real" world, things might make more sense. I agree those things you mention are horribly sad, and justifying God in those circumstances is difficult for our emotions to swallow; but anti-Calvinists such as yourself underrate the serious effects of sin in our world.

By the way, if you think your non-Calvinist God escapes judgment for these "real world" problems, think again. How could ANY loving God allow such things? Don't tell me that He respects our free will too much. Any able atheist will tell you that a truly loving God would care more about horribly hurting people like that, and any god who placed free will above such unspeakable horrors is evil.

Now, I am not saying the atheist is right. What I am saying is that you are using the same line of argument as this atheist (hypothetical, but there are plenty of real ones who will make this argument). If the Calvinist God is evil for allowing such things to happen, then so is your non-Calvinist God. It cuts both ways.

Anonymous - In retrospect, "jumped the shark" is probably a bit too strong. I do still listen to Hank, and I still do respect him in many ways. I do wish his show was a little less of an infomercial sometimes, but I still gain wisdom from him. Still, I am disappointed at how he has certain beliefs still within the "pale of orthodoxy" that he speaks so strongly against. (See, I have listened to Hank so much that I know all the Hank phrases and "Hank-ronyms", as he used to say that Greg Laurie called them, back before his days of refusing to quote dispensationalists.) Especially his repeated characterization of the Calvinist's God as a "cosmic rapist," which I just heard him say again a couple of weeks ago.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Oh and Rick's comment reminds me of something that I've noticed many times. Calvinists are notorious (in some circles) for being "mean." What I find interesting is that many anti-Calvinist writings are much "meaner" and less charitable than most Calvinist ones.

Case in point: I would never accuse Rick of creating an idol who approves of little girls being raped or has divine schizophrenia, or "making an art out of dismissing" passages of the Bible. For that is exactly what he accuses me and other Calvinists of doing - making an idol to suit our own "bubble" and preconceived notion of what God should be like.

We may not agree on every bit of theology - and in the long run these really are fine points of it - but there is no need to be hateful. We are brothers in the Lord, after all ... unless the idolatry I am accused of is so severe that I cannot be a true Christian. On that, I cannot say - God will judge.

Ken said...

It was interesting for me to go back and read this again. I have been listening to the BAM again for months now, via podcast, and I actually like most of what I'm hearing. I have been planning to write an update about this. It would only be fair, as people continue to find my earlier post on the subjects. I think HH may have grown a little more charitable. I'm also glad that the CRJournal continues to do research. I still haven't decided on an eschatological view, other than the basics that we're never guaranteed another day and to continue to put God above all else.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Ken - that's interesting, I'm glad to hear that about Hank. He can perform a great service for the Christian community, and is obviously very smart. Let's get back to "debating vigorously but not dividing".

Ken said...

Hey, it's me again. I FINALLY wrote an update on the broadcast and Hanegraaff. I've read his AC book, I even read his entire Legacy Bible. And it has been well over a year since I started listening to the podcast. My updated thoughts are now here: